Honduras – The Jesuits defend their Option for the Poor

 

The letter below comes from Father Ismael Moreno, a key Jesuit leader in Honduras. In all the years I have worked with Central American community groups the Catholic Church, and especially Jesuit priests, have been critical allies of the popular organisations. Thirty years ago for example, as a young activist, I protested against the murder of six Jesuit priests and their two domestic workers in San Salvador, killed by the Salvadorean army for their support for social justice.

The Jesuits continue to work today in defense of human rights, women’s struggles and freedom of expression. This is particularly so in Honduras, where the illegitimate government is responsible for the repression of organizations working for justice.  Father Moreno is director of Radio Progreso and Fundacion ERIC,  and would normally rely on support from international allies, for example from Canada.

But at present, not only does Father Moreno have to deal with threats from the Honduran government – he has also been criticized by right-wing sectors of the catholic church.   Recently he has received accusations from some sectors of the Canadian Catholic church that the work of Fundacion ERIC and Radio Progreso go against Catholic teachings.  This letter by Father Moreno responds to these accusations. In my opinion, the courageous work of the Jesuits to further social justice in Honduras deserves our support.

The generic photos that accompany the article are by Steve Lewis, and celebrate the resilience of the grassroots church in Honduras and across Central America.

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LETTER FROM FATHER ISMAEL MORENO, SOCIETY OF JESUITS 

El Progreso, Yoro, Honduras, 23 July 2019

Respected Sir and Madam,

Many thanks for your email, which, as is often the case in life in my country, does not really represent the joy of good news, and only adds to our state of uncertainty, fear, threats and lack of security.  I thank you especially for the ardour that shines through your letter for orthodox catholic doctrine, although this implies – as is often the case – an austerity and indifference to the social apostolate that we carry out in defence of human rights and the groups of most vulnerable people in our society.

  • Above all, I am worried by the finality of the warnings in your letter. I do not know exactly if this is about defending traditional fidelity to doctrine on our part, or if you are seeking to guarantee that your funds are not used for ends different to the mission of the Church.  What is very clear is that this is not a letter of solidarity with our work, nor of mercy in the face of the constant and diverse threats, including death threats, to members of our team for their defence of human rights and in particular, environmental rights cruelly threatened by transnational mining companies from Canada.

 

  • If you have read or followed our editorial line and everything related to the materials we produce, there is no coverage nor systematic monitoring of subjects related to sexual morality. You yourselves can observe this in the texts that you cite as examples, these are isolated and do not represent a specific line on these topics on the part of our team.  Your informants in our country will doubtless confirm this affirmation, if indeed they are motivated by good will because of their fidelity to the vigorous doctrine and the good of the Church, rather than by prejudices.
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Jesuit priests have been murdered for their work in Central America. In El Salvador six Jesuits were murdered by the army in 1990. Photo Steve Lewis

  • If you make an objective and unbiased reading of the texts, you yourselves can verify that some of the examples used are writings in which the topic of abortion is not covered in itself, but in relation to the political circumstances we live in in Honduras. There is no exclusive value judgment of the articles that we may publish.  We simply use them to relate to the complex political situation that we have lived in and continue to live in.  One of these, my own text, refers to abortion not as an issue in itself, but the use of the subject of abortion by political groups who are experts in using topics at opportune moments as a screen to camouflage other burning issues.  Acting on specific information that I obtained from powerful sectors, I wrote that at a point in the Honduran political situation, the topic of abortion was used to distract people from other issues and generate a barren and pointless debate.  In an editorial by our Radio, we made the same point.  Our editorial line has not directly tackled the subject of abortion nor other subjects related to sexual morality that go against the official doctrine of our Catholic Church.  Nor is this subject on our agenda.

 

  • I accept that the other articles are contrary to official Church Doctrine. This is not an official editorial line of our Radio nor of the ERIC Foundation, and I accept that our tolerance of  articles along these lines can at the very least confuse some of our readers, and I accept responsibility for this tolerance without having previously set limits, and I agree with the principle of working to redefine criteria in order to avoid restricting ourselves to tolerance of ideas  that may lead to confusion or appear to be part of our editorial line.

 

  • Having said this, I must point out that we are defenders of freedom of expression in a country in which the latter is under siege because of state meddling in the media and stigmatization of those of us who oppose public policies that are contrary to the common good and respect of human rights.
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The grassroots Catholic Church is alive and vibrant in the villages and urban slums of Central America. Photo Credit Steve Lewis

  • And I know it is bold of me to say this, in the face of your prudence in regards to life and your wish to avoid risking mistakes, but I have to say that it is not in the interests of the Church, in this day and age, for the media to restrict the circulation of ideas. I believe that the clearer we are about what we believe in, the more flexibility and tolerance will we have in the face of the different subjects that arise in a society that is increasingly diverse.  A failure to listen to others who are different to us, to abstain from debate with those who think differently, distances us from society, and we run the risk of isolation and inability to fulfil our gospel given mission of being a critical conscience of society.

 

  • Our editorial line is based on defence of life in any situation or state it may be in. We believe in the defence of life from the moment of conception, a dimension that you responsibly stress,  we complement this position  with defence of life of our youth, of the thousands of sick people without medical attention in our hospitals, their lives threatened  because a significant number of high ranking civil servants and politicians have stolen medical equipment and drugs.  We defend the lives of the communities threatened by extractive projects, in particular mining, several of which are controlled by Canadian companies.  If we are to defend the women abused by men, victims of the abuse of power, or even those who are used as cannon fodder by drugs traffickers, and who are often forced to have abortions, then we must do this firmly.   And if we were to defend the rights of women who are accused and criminally charged for having abortions, while the men who made them pregnant and exposed them to extreme vulnerability go free, we would also do this firmly.  We defend life in all its dimensions, of course, from the moment life begins in the mother’s womb.  And not only in the mother’s womb, but also, and even more firmly, once that life has emerged from the mother’s womb.

 

  • Defence of the right to life of those who have emerged from the womb often brings risks and consequences to life, situations that we members of ERIC and Radio Progreso have already experienced. Because of our defence of the life of all persons in all circumstances, we have received multiple death threats and we have relied on the solidarity of many,  including my Jesuit community in Canada, and many other social sectors.  And it is with much joy that we can testify we have received an unambiguous and generous solidarity from Development and Peace.  When I saw who your email came from, I was heartened by what I thought was an expression of solidarity of the Canadian Bishops’ Conference, just at a very difficult time, precisely because we have put our means of communications and our human resources at the service of the defence of life, threated by a regime that is increasingly authoritarian and increasingly harsh against those who think differently to it.  Because of our defence of the lives of our emigrant compatriots, terribly threatened on their journey to the United States, they have accused us of encouraging massive caravans of asylum seekers and of working with other groups that promote emigration.
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The teachings of radical priests and sisters have inspired the development of women across Honduras and El Salvador. Photo Credit Steve Lewis

  • Things are this way because we work increasingly in networks with other Jesuit and church apostolic works and with civil society. And things are this way because it is our opinion that the data shows that mass migration is a phenomenon that has intensified in the last decade, as a consequence of the deterioration of human, social and economic conditions, and because of the corruption of state sectors.  For this reason, our lives are threatened, because we work not only to help the refugees and other Honduran sectors whose lives are threatened, but because we try to look for the root causes and analyse who is responsible for the situations that put our most vulnerable people at risk.  And if all we did were help the people who suffer these injustices, we would doubtless receive cordial treatment from the corrupt politicians and civil servants.  But as we defend the rights of the people whose rights are threatened, and we denounce with statistics and data those who bear the greatest degree of responsibility for these threats, our own lives have been thrown into the same situation of threat of those thousands of lives that we try to protect and defend.

 

  • We members of the work team of ERIC and Radio Progreso are frail people, all of us, without exception, come from families of Christian believers, and we earn an honest wage that will never make us rich, but we are honoured to work putting our faith into action, in the promotion of justice, human rights and peace. Because we work in communications and in harmony with the apostolic mission of the Company of Jesus, we are right in the thick of the clamouring realities of society, and we are vulnerable to making mistakes.  And we make them.  And as frail human beings, although we don’t like to admit our frailty, we confess we are sinners and we need daily conversion.

 

  • We are conscious that frailty is part of our reality and for that reason, we not only recognize that we err and that as men and women who are sinners, we ask forgiveness for our mistakes, our lack of generosity, our half-heartedness and mediocrity in giving ourselves up to our suffering people, and for our cowardice in speaking out forcefully enough, with disregard for the power and prestige of those we have to address, in the name of the poor.  We fear we may be misunderstood on our errors and frailties, because we understand that we write to you, who are frequently infallible in error and wholly satisfactory in your human, ethical and Christian practice.  However, I ask you in the name of my work team, to not limit yourselves to condemning our practices, however mistaken we may be, but we would also hope  you would indulge us with some mercy and solidarity with who we are and what we wish to do, and continue to do in defense of the poor.
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During the civil wars of the 1980’s the Church had to take sides in the conflict. To their discredit, some of the conservative church sided with oppressive armies. Photo Credit Steve Lewis

  • On consulting with my work team, we all wondered why the confidentiality you request is necessary, given that we are dealing with subjects of public debate. We prefer and demand that this debate be made public, and that others’ opinions should be heard.  Keeping confidential topics and dealings that are obviously of a public nature can lead to arbitrary decisions that go against people’s dignity.  Nothing should be secret, express in public and before society what you believe and how you evaluate us and our work.  And we will do the same, as missionaries of the Company of Jesus in the service of the Church, we  will inform all our volunteers and friends in solidarity of your suspicions about who we are and how we act and think.

 

  • If you got this far in your reading of this missive, we would like to know what moves your letter and what it is you expect from us. I say this, because although we need funds to survive in our apostolic mission, we would hope that the chill of the eternal Canadian winter that pervades your letter is not induced by a review on whether to continue or suspend funding to us.  We are a humble team and we live on solidarity, mainly from international organizations.  But we cannot allow money to decide what we do or stop doing, this must be determined by faith and conviction in our apostolic mission that we receive from the Church, through the Company of Jesus, a mission that is incarnate in the cries of the poor of our Honduran society.  If you decide to put an end to the funding that you have been providing for some years now, we are not going to rant and rave, but we will inform all our Honduran and international friends.  It will be a great pity because we need the solidarity funds, but, blessed be God, we will not fight, nor will we allow ourselves to be humiliated.  We may end up without funds to carry out our work, maybe some of us will have no pay.     But if the funds are conditional, it would be better for us to carry on weaving hope even if we stop working, but whatever we do, we want to continue doing it with faith, love and dignity.

 

  • Finally, from the North comes the solidarity of peoples, always with so much generosity and simplicity, and over these years, this has been the way with Development and Peace. But the North has also sent interference, conditionality and prejudices, and a muzzle that seeks to silence us.  We would hope to receive from you a generous presence of solidarity, which we are sure will never be like the experience of the mining companies who come with their truth of extractivism, taking away our mineral wealth and leaving us the consequences of misery and death.   There is no doubt that we will continue to hope for you to be a gentle presence of solidarity in our lives, and by extension, those of the suffering people we work with.  And we will remain grateful for your suggestions and your concerns, that not only do we accept, but we commit to address.

With my embrace and prayers,

Father Ismael Moreno, SJ  (Padre Melo.)

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The international community need to stand in solidarity with human rights defenders on the ground, as these Salvadoran women stand in solidarity with their murdered priests and lay activists.   Photo Credit Steve Lewis

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How your travel can benefit Nicaraguan social organisations

After two years living and travelling in Nicaragua I have seen that just by staying at certain hotels you support the education of needy children. And by eating in some restaurants you can provide jobs for adults with special needs. A number of tourist ventures in Nicaragua are now ‘social-enterprises’ which dedicate their profits to charities, or programmes that benefit the local community. But many of these ventures are not well publicized, and some towns seem to be missing out. I wonder if we could make a ‘portal’ or site where Nicaraguan social enterprises can easily be found?

You kayaking trip can benefit children’s education on Ometepe island

I work for a ‘‘Sister City’ programme  that regularly brings delegations of visitors to Nicaragua. There are many organisations who bring groups of visitors to this wonderful country, from  ‘Global Glimpse’ to brigades of deaf teachers, or Church Mission groups. Not forgetting  normal groups of tourists enjoying what the country has to offer. If each of these groups stayed in hotels which are Social Enterprises then we could bring large amounts of new income towards school and social programmes. I try to take my groups to one of these Five Favourite Places, but I also try to spend our hotel and restaurant budget in Social-enterprises.

A Social Enterprise is a company, like a hotel or a café or shop, which channels its profits to a non-profit or Non-Government Organisation (NGO). Across Nicaragua Social Enterprises are now raising large amounts of funding for poor communities and local charities. Let me give some examples…

I stayed at Hacienda Merida on Ometepe which was a great place to relax and  watch the sunset views. But the best thing was knowing that the profits go towards building a primary school for the local community. The hostal income allows them to build a new classroom each year. (the classrooms are built partly out of recycled bottles which is also beneficial). The owner, Alvaro Molina, began years ago with a dream. Now this self-supporting project has allowed the building of four well-equipped classrooms and dozens of children receiving a bilngual education. All paid for by the profits from happy travellers.

The lovely primary school supported by Hacienda Merida

Esteli is the town in Nicaragua that is best served by Social Enterprise hotels. Casa Vinculos is a lovely hotel that directly supports Fundacion Vinculos, which promotes Early Childhood Education. When I take delegations to Esteli we take over all nine rooms in Casa Vinculos and enjoy their good food and crafts shop whilst knowing that our funds benefit local children. Esteli also has the more upmarket Hotel Los Arcos, which supports a health centre, plus SONATI, and Hostal Luna which cater for the backpacker market and support environmental work and a mobile library.

Granada has Hotel Con Corazon  which supports education programmes. Hotel Con Coraon is interesting because its publicity positively emphasizes the social benefits supported and its name reflects this. Unfortunately since it is always booked up well in advance I have never stayed there, and so far I have not heard of a second similar hotel in the town. Since Granada is the heartland of tourism in Nicaragua, with over 100 hotels, I believe there is plenty of scope for more hotels that could be added to Hotel Con Corazon and take up more of this market segment.

NGOs and non-profits aim to encourage a love of reading for pleasure. Nicaraguan schools and homes have a major shortage of books

By contrast, in terms of social-profit hotels, Leon and Managua are disappointing. In Leon the SONATI hostal does good work with the backpacker crowd, raising awareness on environmental work. But in terms of a hotel, for better off clients, I don’t know of a single hotel in Leon or Las Peñitas or Poneloya that dedicates all its profits to social programmes.  Of course there are some hotels that will give a donation now and then to a charity. But I am talking about hotels that exist to raise funds for the social good. If you exist, then let the world know. I bring groups to Leon 4 times a year and would love to place visitors in a hotel on the model of Casa Vinculos or Casa con Corazon.

In Managua there are hundreds of hotels. Like Leon, if one exists like the examples above, then you don’t advertise widely enough. Hotel Europeo does support a foundation but it is not clear from the website what % of the profits goes to the charitable work. I would also love to know if a hotel with social benefit exists in San Juan del Sur or other towns.

Cafes and restaurants can also be Social Enterprises, such as the wonderful Cafe de Las Sonrisas in Granada, which employs deaf staff

The tourism sector can support more Social Enterprises – not only hotels but also restaurants, language schools and other services. Esteli has Café Luz which raises funds for the mobile library.  Granada has the wonderful Café de la Sonrisa  where deaf young people work. Also of course there are shops and crafts. In Granada there is a Hammock workshop next door to Café de la Sonrisa which provides  employment opportunities for differently-able young people. In Leon or Managua, is there anything similar?

To learn Spanish you can visit the Mariposa Language School. To climb  a volcano from Leon then go with  Quetzaltrekkers which raises funds through providing tours and guides. Quetaltrekkers provide funding for a range of Leon NGOs such as  Las Tias and NECAT, to pay the salaries of teachers and social workers in deprived areas of town.

If you want to climb a volcano, go with Quetsaltrekkers, who devote their profits to support NGOs such in Leon

So these tourist-orientated ventures are providing a great service. But they could be better known and there could be more of them. How could tourist-orientated social enterprises in Nicaragua be better publicized? I would love to find a one-stop shop where you could easily find information for every town in the country. How could this be set up?

My dream is to be able to always stay in social enterprise hotels when I bring groups here.  To spend most of our budget with services like Quetaltrekkers and mainly eat in cafes or restaurants like Café de las Sonrisas. Do you think that will be possible? And how could it be set up?

 

Photos by Steve Lewis. Follow Steve on instagram at @owstonlewis

Help Stop The Passing of the NICA Act

American intervention is threatening progress in Nicaragua, and American friends & readers can help by contacting your senator. Please ask your them to vote against the NICA Act. Here is a link to find your Senator.

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Continued loans from global lenders are needed to build new school buildings in Nicaragua

 

Most expats living in Nicaragua enjoy the climate, food and culture and are friends with Nicaraguan neighbours and colleagues. We see that the country is slowly but steadily reducing poverty, and we enjoy the peace and stability the country enjoys. The country has problems, of course, like anywhere, but only Nicaraguans themselves can sort those problems out. Although the country is still the poorest in Latin America, the economy is growing at a rate of 4.5% p.a. and the rate of crime is only a fraction of that in neighbouring Honduras and El Salvador. These are important achievements.

But this stability and growth is threatened by interference from the USA. In October the US Congress approved the Nicaragua Investment Conditionality Act, known as the NICA Act. If approved by the Senate the NICA Act could see the US block all major international lending institutions from lending to Nicaragua. Institutions such as the World Bank, IMF and Inter-American Development Bank will be blocked from giving loans that fund improvements in roads, ports, electricity and other infrastructure.

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World Bank loans are used to improve infrastructure, such as these storm drains

 

You can put an end to this interference in Nicaraguan affairs by writing to your senator. Ask him or her to vote against the passing of the NICA Act. If the act is passed it will reverse the progress Nicaragua has made in the last few years and will end the improvements we have seen in roads and infrastructure. Schools and health facilities would become even more run-down – so the effect of choking off loans will make life harder for the poorest.

Just yesterday the World Bank, meeting in Granada, Nicaragua, approved a loan of over $400 million for Nicaragua. Over the last three years loans averaged around $100 million a year, but over the next three years that will increase to about $150 million p.a. The World Bank said that this is because previous loans have been carried out efficiently and on-time, by the government and the private sector working together, and with good accounting.

The NICA Act has met with near unanimous condemnation in Nicaragua from the government, the National Assembly, the Private Sector, almost all political parties, and most religious leaders. The Organisation of American States (OAS) electoral mission that was in Nicaragua for the elections last November described the Act as ‘Counter-productive’.

Mural in Managua. Nicaragua has unhappy memories of USA intervention in the 1980’s

If you are from the USA please email, ring or write to your senator now.  Phone number is (1 202) 224 3121, and using skype or a similar package this will hardly cost you a dime.

If you have never lobbied your representative before you can get good advice from RESULTS, a grassroots advocacy agency. I used to work for RESULTS in the UK, and our representatives were always happy to receive polite emails or phone-calls from constituents. Here is a link to find your Senator.

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Long-term investments from lenders will improve rural transport & reduce poverty

 

And this link gives you excellent advice from RESULTS. about advocacy (in general) in the USA.

For those readers who are not from the USA you can still help by signing the petition on the link at Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign and Change.Org

So –  Use your vote, use your voice, tell your senator you live here and have an opinion. Please let us know how you got on, using the Comments Box below.

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Mural shows that Nicaragua doesn’t want interference in their affairs from the USA (or others)

 

Community Tourism in Nicaragua – Get Off the Beaten Track & Do Good!

 

As the sun came up I lay in bed listening to the howler monkeys in the forest…after a delicious ‘tipica’ breakfast with our host family we had a great walk through the coffee fields up to the rain-forest in the hill-tops. We saw sloths, oriole birds, wonderful butterflies and Nicaragua’s national bird, the guardabaranco. Community tourism in San Ramon allows farmers to diversify their farm-income and encourages all the community to preserve the environment. It’s a win-win for tourists and the local community together’.

Stay in local houses amidst the lovely nature of La Reyna, San Ramon

Although Nicaragua is still the second poorest country in Latin America, tourism is booming, with around 5% annual growth in recent years, supported by Nicaragua’s excellent record of peace and safety, and a growing economy. According to the World Tourism Council 2017 report tourism contributed $720 million in direct revenue to the country, amounting to around 5.3% of GDP in 2016. Tourism makes up nearly 4% of total employment, or 100,000 people. So things are looking good.

But there are flies in the tourism ointment. Land on the pacific coast is now selling for inflated prices and being snapped up by foreign buyers. Tourism is concentrated in two or three small areas of the country. Granada and San Juan del Sur are over-touristed, and are losing some of their Nicaraguan culture.  Much of the tourism industry is owned by large companies, and eventually by non-Nicaraguan private sector.

There is a way for tourists here to get off the beaten track, and see the real Nicaragua, by visiting rural villages and cooperatives that run community tourism initiatives. Community Tourism and Eco-tourism are ways to experience rural life, stay with local people and help preserve the environment. According to Martha Honey, author of Who Owns Paradise?, ‘ecotourism is travel to fragile and often protected environments, that strive to be low-impact and small-scale. It helps educate the traveller, provides funds for local conservations, directly benefits the economic development of local communities and fosters respect for different cultures’.

 

Community and locally owned tourism contributes more to a country than large scale package tours or high-end hotel chains. Globally the tourism sector that contributes least to local economies is the cruise-liner sector. It is estimated that if you buy a cruise-holiday, 90% of your total spending stays in the country of origin. Whereas back-packers, and low-impact travellers in Central America spend 80% of their total spend in the region.

When you are travelling in Nicaragua try to get away from the Southern ‘tourist-triangle’ (Granada –Ometepe-San Juan del Sur) and visit some of the small towns and rural nature areas. Travel on your own or, if you are in the USA or UK, sign up with a small group trip run by one of the  Sister-cities such as Gettysburg-Leon  or one of the Nicaragua solidarity groups. Here are five great ecotourism recommendations that we have enjoyed in the last 18 months:

1/ Stay with a rural family, Miraflor nature reserve, outside Esteli.

Beautiful countryside, nice hiking, and lovely waterfalls. Google UCA Miraflor Tourism to arrange to stay with a local family, and to go horse-riding or bird watching. Prices are very reasonable, at around $20 per day with meals included. By travelling on public transport you help to keep your environmental footprint low. Tourists who show their love for nature encourage local communities to preserve the forests.

2 / Volunteer in exchange for reduced lodging rates.

In Rancho Esperanza, on Jiquilillo beach in Chinandega, you can stay for a couple of months or longer and really contribute to the life of the local community. (It’s beautiful too). Volunteers work in a Kids Club with children. If you can’t stay that long you are still encouraged to support the local community by taking ‘tours’ such as line fishing, kayaking, or learn to climb a coconut tree.

3/ Somoto Canyon

The author, floating gently through Somoto Canyon

Somoto canyon is a must-do in Nicaragua, an adrenalin rush that will provide you with some of your best memories. Somoto is in Northern Nicaragua, so helps to get tourists to explore much-less visited part of the country. You can stay the night near the canyon, and make sure you use local guides with a good reputation. We have always taken groups with Henry Soriano, of Somoto Canyon Tours,  who are highly recommended for a friendly service with a good commitment to safety.

4/ Support Cooperatives

Around the country look out for the system of ‘co-manejo’ where local communities have joint control of natural resources with MARENA the ministry for the environment. In Las Peñitas, a beautiful fishing community outside Leon a cooperative of 12 local people  offer tours of Isla Juan Venado and the mangrove swamps. Between July and December they protect the eggs of endangered turtles, and at any time of the year you can stay the night in rustic cabinas on a very isolated beach.

In Las Peñitas and Jiquilillo community groups protest the endangered baby turtles

5/ Fair trade coffee villages

There is a wide range of options on offer, well-marketted throughout the North. Ask in any hotel around Esteli, Matagalpa, Jinotega and the Segovias.

In San Ramon a series of small villages and struggling cooperatives eke out a living from coffee production. After tough times under the right-wing government in the 1990s the co-ops have been supported to improve their incomes by CECOCAFEN  an umbrella body. The co-ops have now improved their shade-grown coffee, are moving to organic status, and have started homestays and visitor programmes. Support the fair-trade coffee villages and stay in a beautiful mountain community, enjoy fresh-roast home-grown coffee, and also visit gold-mines, viewpoints, cloud-forest, all the time surrounded by monkeys, sloths and butterflies.

For more information on all these areas the Moon Guide book is an excellent source of information. In this blog post they also recommend five rural cooperatives that get consistently high reviews  http://moon.com/2015/06/enjoy-sustainable-tourism-in-nicaragua/. Check them out and soon you’ll have your own list of favourites to share.

 

Please follow my Instagram page for more photos of beautiful Nicaragua – owstonlewis

Which are your favourite recommendations for low-impact tourism in Nicaragua or other countries you want to share? Please use the comments box below to share your recommendations.

Gallery: Las Peñitas, a beautiful Nicaraguan beach & fishing village

Sunset at Las Peñitas beach

Sunset at Las Peñitas beach

Dusk over the estuary

Dusk over the estuary

Still morning

Still morning

Gutting the catch

Gutting the catch

Dawn on the beach

Dawn on the beach

Grandpa, mending the nets

Grandpa, mending the nets

Shower door, Barca de Oro hotel

Shower door, Barca de Oro hotel

Sopa de Ponche on Sundays

Sopa de Ponche on Sundays (crab soup)

Las Rocas at Las Peñitas

Las rocas at Las Peñitas

Waiting for Godot

Waiting for Godot

A heron stalks breakfast

A heron stalks breakfast

Community tourism

Community tourism

A good catch

A good catch

A hint of black and white

A splash of colour

And a splash of colour

 

 

The Heat in Leon

There are two things that have dominated my life in my first few months in Nicaragua. One is the new technology I have inherited, my struggle to stay sane in the world of fragile laptops and weak wifi. The other is the heat in Leon. The all-encompassing, cloying, debilitating heat that surrounds us.

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Leon cathedral, empty streets in the heat of the day

I arrived in January, and it was hot. Hot so you soon learned not to walk in the sun, hot so I wilted by mid-afternoon. Hot but just about manageable. But since then the heat has been building. In March and April the heat has been unbearable, as we build up to the rainy season. In April, the hottest month, the temperature crept from 36 degrees, to 37, 38 and several times up to 40 centigrade. In that temperature you just melt.

In Leon there are only two cooler hours of the day – from 5 am to 7am. If you want to go for a walk you have to get up at dawn. In the day, if you have to walk, you jump from shadow to shadow. If I walk to the shops with my wife, we walk in single file, hugging the edge of the buildings, searching for a sliver of shade. We walk, avoiding the sleeping dogs, the rubbish and the sudden potholes, and even the shade is hot.

Unlike most offices in Nicaragua, my office has no air-conditioning. We can’t afford it. In the mornings we manage, with a plethora of fans strategically positioned by each desk. By mid-afternoon our productivity plummets. I sit, with rivulets of sweat dripping down my back. My shirt clings to my skin. Not a great look as I try to exude authority.

The office has a shower. Sometimes I shower in the middle of the day, and just stand there afterwards, no towel, for two or three minutes till I am dry. Arriving home after work, the first thing I do is throw off my wringing clothes and shower, if there is water, in the lukewarm flow of Leon’s water system. At least here no-one needs a heated shower. You can shower four or five times a day – but a few minutes afterwards you are just…hot!

We bought a fan for our little apartment – it just pushes the hot air around. At the moment, living here is like living under a hair dryer. Roll on the rain, I say. I hope then it will get a little cooler. But in fact they say it just becomes wet and hot instead. Wet, hot, humid, like a Turkish bath. Will a change be as good as a rest? But Nicaragua needs the rain, after the last two very dry years. Last week we had a few storms, with the inevitable power cuts they bring. The mood is changing in the streets. Are people now carrying parasols or are they carrying umbrellas?

The photos below show how I am coping with the climate…

January

February

February

March

March

April

April

Gallery: Birds on Costa Rica trip ; Pajaros en viaje recien a Costa Rica

Yellow bird eating

Feeding on insects

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Hummingbird with tongue extended

Purple humming bird on branch

Purple hummingbird

Mummingbird coming towards

Hummingbird in flight

poor mans umbrella

‘Poor mans umbrella’

Little brown bird

Costa Rican Sparrow?

Yellow window bird from behind

Terrific to be able to get close to these little ones…

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Catching the forest sunlight

yellowbodyredhead

Collared Redstart (Adult)

 

Yellow bird tufty red head

Adolescent collared redstart. You can tell the adolescents as they use brillcream on their tufty heads

Yellow plant & river

Forest vegetation

 

Chronicle of a death foretold

In my first couple of months in Nicaragua I have spent time in the Northern hills. To the North I could see rolling mountains in neighbouring Honduras. But while Nicaragua today is peaceful, our next-door country is sadly wracked by violence, some of which comes from efforts to protect the land and the environment. Today’s blog is a Guest Blog by my friend Mary Durran.

CHRONICAL OF A DEATH FORETOLD

Funeral of Berta Caceres

Funeral of Berta Caceres

 

Berta Cáceres had received so many death threats, due to her opposition to the Agua Zarca dam, that she knew it was only a matter of time.  Her security routine was elaborate, rotating around the houses of friends.  Not even her father knew her whereabouts. But it was not enough. Berta was murdered on 3rd March by unknown assassins.

 

 

I met Bertha at a conference in Tegucigalpa in 2013.  She spoke with passion.  Reeling from the murder of Rigoberto Hernandez, a grassroots leader who had opposed an iron ore mine in western Honduras, and whose body was found with his tongue ripped out, Berta said then that she was prepared to fight until the end.

Berta was a leader of the Lenca indigenous people of Honduras, who make up about 8% of the Honduran population. The Lenca mainly live in poverty, and those who do not have land have to work precarious odd-jobs for dollar-a-day wages.  They need land to grow food and preserve their lifestyle and dignity.

Funeral of Berta CaceresBerta was a pioneer in the movement to defend the ancestral lands of the Lenca from mega projects funded by international capital.  Her murder has been interpreted as a sombre warning for other defenders.

“Her murder shows the vulnerability of people and organizations struggling for human rights and the defence of natural resources, and against the handover of our national sovereignty,” said Fr. Ismael Moreno, director of the Fundacion ERIC.

Honduras was identified as the most dangerous country in the world to be an environmental defender, with the highest murder rate of environmental activists, by Global Witness last year.   Since 1998 Honduras has opened up to international mining companies, introducing legislation that puts the interests of the investor before those of communities and the state.  Such policies intensified after the 2009 coup d’etat and the subsequent government which came to power in fraudulent elections.

Indigenous woman at funeralHonduras has also received funds from international climate funds which seek to promote clean energy.  Investments include hydro-electric projects, often on the lands of indigenous peoples, or poor peasant communities.  But in most cases, the Honduran government has failed to consult the indigenous before launching projects on their lands.  Neither does the government offer any relocation packages to those whose lands are grabbed, or those who water supplies are ruined by the dams.

 

The life and struggle of Berta Caceres will not be in vain. In death, she is even bigger than she was in life.  The Dutch FMO bank that was funding the Agua Zarca dam has suspended operations.  Berta has already become an icon for women leaders and those who struggle to protect the environment.  As Honduran protesters chanted at her funeral,  Berta vive!  La lucha sigue!. Berta lives, the struggle continues!

Women w flag, at funeral

 

Guest Blog by Mary Durran. Mary and I worked in the 1980’s for the Central America Human Rights Committees. See https://durranmary.wordpress.com/ for more news on Latin American issues.

Informacion en español – https://www.oxfam.org/es/sala-de-prensa/notas-de-prensa/2016-03-04/oxfam-rinde-homenaje-la-defensora-de-los-derechos-humanos?utm_source=oxf.am&utm_medium=Zh7j&utm_content=redirect

http://www.internationalrivers.org/blogs/433-16

Photos from Radio Progreso, Honduras

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